Early voting for political candidates ends Friday in Texas. But the polls that speak loudest to many college football fans re-open Saturday, although the list of Lone Star State residents in decision-making positions is limited.
Among the hottest topics: Can embattled Texas football coach Charlie Strong save his job if he secures the team’s first road victory of the season Saturday at Texas Tech, then uses it as a springboard to carry the Longhorns (4-4, 2-3 Big 12) to a record of 8-5, including a bowl appearance?
Will TCU coaches stick with Kenny Hill at quarterback or switch to sophomore Foster Sawyer when the Horned Frogs (4-4, 2-3) play against No. 13 Baylor? If Hill gets the start, how short is his leash after being benched in the second half of last week’s 27-24 loss to Texas Tech in double overtime?
Will the College Football Playoff path continue unfolding in a friendly manner for No. 4 Texas A&M (7-1)? The Aggies are well-positioned to become a viable “wild card” option for the CFP’s four-team bracket as title contenders from the Big 12 and Pac-12 continue to self-destruct in droves. The lone exception in either league is No. 5 Washington (8-0), the only Pac-12 team with fewer than two losses.
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The net result is that A&M, which plays Saturday in Starkville against Mississippi State (3-5), could emerge Dec. 5 as a playoff participant with an 11-1 record but without an SEC title.
15-16 Record of Texas A&M’s remaining opponents.
All of these questions, and many more involving potential major shake-ups for Texas’ college teams, will be decided by a small circle of decision-makers. Whether those are coaches, boosters, CFP officials or school administrators, the next round of evidence will be gleaned in Saturday’s games, football’s weekly version of the ballot box. As things stand, here’s what we can expect regarding:
Charlie Strong: With a 15-18 record at Texas, Strong needs a big November to prevent university president Greg Fenves from siding with boosters who long to hire Houston’s Tom Herman. The former Longhorns’ graduate assistant has a 20-3 record with the Cougars and will be coveted this off-season by multiple Power 5 programs. Strong’s primary failings have been on pass defense and in road games. That makes the matchup in Lubbock against a Tech team that leads the FBS in passing yards (500.6 per game) and ranks second in scoring (47.4 average) a terrific barometer for an inconsistent program. If Strong is not down to his last chance for his team to show consistency after 33 games, he’s awfully close.
Kenny Hill: Through eight games as TCU’s starting quarterback, Hill has thrown 13 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. That 13-10 ratio is not going to produce lasting success in a spread offense. All of TCU’s offensive struggles are not attributable to one position but changing the quarterback is the easiest way to energize an offense. Problem is, backup Foster Sawyer must be better than he was while completing 6-of-17 passes after Hill was benched against Tech for a quarterback change to alter the outcome.
A&M playoff hopes: Despite Tuesday’s initial CFP rankings, which have No. 4 A&M (7-1) ahead of No. 5 Washington (8-0), the Aggies will not stay ahead of the Huskies on Dec. 5 if both teams win out. The CFP prefers to award conference champions and undefeated teams. Washington would be both if it remains unbeaten. But if Washington loses a game, Tuesday’s placement of teams shows CFP officials are not wowed by the work being done in the Pac-12 or Big 12. A&M just needs to keep winning and hope for a Huskies’ loss. If that happens, A&M could be “in” on Dec. 5.
Baylor’s next coach: Jim Grobe, 64, still carries the title of acting head coach but hopes to upgrade at the end of the season. That seems unlikely, even if the Bears (6-1, 3-1 Big 12) win a league title. Baylor’s best public-relations move for the long haul is a postseason break with all coaches, including Grobe, who have any connection to the Art Briles era that overlapped the school’s ongoing sexual assault scandal. That would close the door on hiring Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery, a former Briles assistant whose team is 6-2 and in contention for an American Athletic Conference title. But the Baylor job would be a great fit for SMU coach Chad Morris, who runs a spread offense, has deep ties to Texas high school coaches and has the Mustangs (4-4) in bowl contention. Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, a native of Muleshoe, also could be a good fit.
Tom Herman’s future: Herman could command an outrageous salary in December if power programs at Texas and USC get in a bidding war with LSU, which already has a vacancy. But the native of Simi Valley, Calif., who spent two seasons as a GA at Texas (1999-2000), needs to avoid any more upsets in AAC play after recent losses to Navy and SMU left the Cougars (7-2, 4-2 AAC) in pursuit mode in efforts to reach the conference title game.